I’ve got the Google Traffic blues.
Smart online writers depend on the search queries in our traffic stats to show us what our readers are looking for, want to know, or might want to read more about. This helps us improve our existing content, by tailoring it to our readers’ needs. Search traffic records also help us look for leads about new topics to write on which might get traffic.
Over time, observing search traffic can give you instincts about what kinds of things people tend to search for on the web, and what they don’t. This is very useful knowledge for an online writer to have.
There’s just one problem.
Google is hiding more and more of this information. As a result, traffic stats on sites like Squidoo are starting to look weird:
“Direct” traffic? Just what does that mean, anyway?
Originally, “Direct” traffic indicated visitors navigating to our websites via a bookmark, clicking on a link in a private email, typing the URL in directly, or some other source that provided absolutely no information that our traffic software could track.
To this we may now add Google search queries on iOS6. Google doesn’t usually hide search data this completely, but in some cases, it’s encrypting/concealing search data so much that when a user performs a Google search and arrives on your site, Google won’t even let your traffic software know, “Hey, that visitor came from us.” It’s as if Google were walking behind the visitor with a broom, sweeping away their footprints.
So that’s why our traffic stats now show so much so-called “Direct” traffic. It’s search traffic arriving under Google’s invisibility cloak.
But all the rest of Google’s search traffic is filed under “Google,” right? And then the search queries should show up under the “Keywords” chart?
Sadly, no. In many cases, Google is only telling Squidoo, “Hi, I just sent you a visitor,” without passing along the actual terms/keywords they searched for. So many Google search traffic visits are now filed under the “Referrers” chart, instead of the “Keywords” chart:
If you check Google Analytics, the keywords for these searches are all listed as “Not Provided.”
Unfortunately, since Google is blocking the data from its end, there is absolutely no way to ferret out what words those visitors searched for to find your page.
Not all Google search queries are hidden. In some cases, they still show up under “Keywords.” But more and more of them are not showing up. This has been going on for a while, but it’s getting worse.
In 2011, Google started encrypting (hiding) search data for users logged into Google or Google Plus. At the time, Matt Cutts of Google claimed that this “not provided” data would be a very low percentage of our traffic stats data, “in the single digits.” That was an underestimate, of course.
More recently, Firefox has started voluntarily encrypting searches from users using Google search at the top of its browser. More and more web applications are following suit.
Since more and more third-party browsers and apps are voluntarily using Google encryption when their users do a Google search, the percentage of search terms “not provided” by Google keeps growing. Some websites are reporting as much as 50% of their search traffic is concealed by the “not provided” filter.
Google claimed that blocking search data was done to protect visitor privacy, but it’s a pile of crock. Google advertisers get access to search query data which is “not provided” to the rest of us. Basically, you have to pay Google now to get complete data on what your customers are looking for. If you’re doing it as a commercial advertiser, you get to snoop on people’s web searching habits; if you’re doing it as a writer trying to learn what your readers want, tough.
Luckily, we’re not entirely dependent on Google to help us learn what our visitors want. Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines are still reporting their search data to Squidoo, so we’ll still see plenty of examples of what kinds of searches are bringing visitors to our pages under the “Keywords” column. But we’re missing a complete picture. We may not be seeing the most popular searches bringing visitors to our pages, or, at the least, only a fraction of those searches are turning up in our “Keywords” column, with the rest hidden.